Well, at the beginning of these pieces, I often tell you that we here at Roker Report are always on the look out for the very best in SAFC-related interviews for the pleasure of your eyes on our site. This time, I don't think anyone can argue that we have been 100% successful in securing the name of a living legend at our club. When I heard that we had the chance to speak to today's guest, I won't lie, I did a short, yet extremely manly squeal.
Our guest today surely needs no introduction, but, for anyone of the youngest of generations that isn't familiar with the name, Dennis Tueart was an essential cog in the machine that won the FA Cup for Sunderland in 1973. For that reason alone he will always be a legend at the club, but 46 goals in 178 appearances for the lads, and numerous goals on the route to Wembley will mean that few people rank higher than him in lists of top Sunderland stars.
In what promises to be a magnificent read, Dennis's autobiography has just hit the shelves, and we are delighted to be able to talk to Dennis about his experiences at Sunderland and beyond.
Well, you're not here to listen to me gushing about being able to chat to Dennis, so I'll get right into it, shall I? Ladies and gentlefolk, welcome along to Roker Report meets Dennis Tueart.
Hi Dennis. It is an absolute pleasure and an honour to speak to you. Right, for starters, you were born in Newcastle, yet played for Sunderland. Which side of the divide were you on as a boy?
Dennis: "I was a Newcastle supporter from the age of three and played for Newcastle Schoolboys from the age of twelve. During my teenage school holidays I was a regular visitor to St James Park to collect autographs and then stay on to watch the players training a mile away at their Hunters Moor training pitch."
We would obviously love to talk about the cup run... It almost finished as soon as it had started away at Notts County, before Dave Watson headed in your cross. Did you think at any point that the game was lost?
Dennis: "Yes, I did, until Dave Watson was switched up to play centre forward. Notts County were one of the better teams in the second division at the time, and we knew it would be a tough game. They put us under a lot of pressure and Monty made a fantastic save to keep the game at 1-0. When Dave equalised, I knew that we could beat them in the replay back at Roker Park."
A number of former footballers claim that they can remember every goal that they scored. Is this the case with you? If so, can you talk us through your goals in the cup run that season?
Dennis: "Against Notts County in the replay, we had taken the lead, and they were putting us under a lot of pressure. We broke away and I dispossessed their defender and shot past the keeper in the last few minutes. That game was when we first realised that we were becoming a quality side, and the attendance of almost 30,000 supporters staggered us.
"For the Reading game at home, we were very confident going into the game and knew that we would be playing in front of another 30,000 supporters. Against the run of play, they took the lead and their goalkeeper Steve Death was outstanding as we tried to get back into the game. Finally, Billy Hughes crossed from the left, the Reading goalkeeper fumbled the cross and I stabbed the ball across the line.
"In the replay, the game was where we had to show our real quality from the first minute. Dave Watson scored an early first goal, I picked up the ball outside the Reading box, took a snap shot and the ball drifted into the net. Bobby Kerr got the third and we were 3 up before half time."
The Manchester City replay at Roker Park was voted as the greatest match to ever be played at the Stadium. What are your memories of that night?
Dennis: "The main memories were just how well we played, the quality of goals that we scored, the team spirit amongst the lads, the backing of the famous ‘Roker Roar’ and a capacity crowd of over 52,000 people. It was after that game that we really felt we had a chance of winning the FA Cup."
The final was played in front of 100,000 people. Given the way that football has changed in the past 30 years or so, do you think we'll ever see an atmosphere like that again?
Dennis: "No, I don’t think so, because no team will ever be able to win the cup coming from the position we came from. You had to consider that we were second bottom of the then second division in November 1972, we beat each of the three favourites for the trophy and finished sixth in the second division at the end of the season. It was an absolute fairytale journey."
In a similar question, the 'Roker Roar' is legendary, and never more so than in your era at the club. Can you describe what it was like to play in front of the crowd back then?
Dennis: "I can honestly say that the support from that ‘Roker Roar’ helped drive the team on through the final stages of the cup run. The crowd would always give you time to produce a performance with their constant support, which you needed as a player. There was always a statement that the crowd behind the Fulwell end could ‘suck the ball’ into the goal."
In the multi-million pound world that is football now, do you think that any club will ever be able to match Sunderland's achievement and win the cup from a lower league?
Dennis: "I really don’t think that will ever be possible. If ever there was proof that by galvanising your fanbase you can achieve fantastic results, then this was it, but with the finance available in modern football, the wealthier clubs will always be more likely to take the major honours."
You played over 175 times for Sunderland, aside from the '73 cup games, is there a match that you look back on most fondly?
Dennis: "Yes, there is a game against Swindon in particular, just before I left the club, where I scored the perfect hat trick. A left foot shot, a right foot shot and a header... and I didn’t get the ‘man of the match’ award! It was then that I realised that maybe I was not being appreciated at the club, and it became apparent that I would have to think about leaving Sunderland."
And perhaps a favourite goal?
Dennis: "I have two favourites. The first is a sideways volley against Oxford away. Bobby Kerr took a short free kick from Dick Malone and bent a great cross in from the right wing, and I performed a sideways-volley scissors kick and the ball flew into the top corner.
The second was against Vasas Budapest in the Cup Winners Cup, the season after the cup final. We had beaten them 1-0 at home and I had scored a penalty, and in the return game Billy Hughes scored our first goal. After that, I picked the ball up on the halfway line, dribbled it past three of their defenders and slipped it past the onrushing keeper to guarantee our progress into the next round."
Were you disappointed in the way that the cup team broke up so quickly? Did you think that you could have gone on to even bigger things?
Dennis: "That was one of my real great disappointments in my time at Sunderland, as the club didn’t realise that we had a special group of players and we needed additional quality to supplement our squad. Unfortunately, I really don’t think that the club had enough ambition to develop that group of players, and I had to consider my own future development."
What are your memories of Bob Stokoe?
Dennis: "I have excellent memories of Bob when he first came to Sunderland. He had a totally contrasting approach to management, and he encouraged Billy Hughes and myself to be more expressive on the field. He also made a few excellent signings, such as when he brought Dave Young and Ron Guthrie in from Newcastle, along with Vic Halom from Luton. I would be lying if I was to say that I was disappointed with him by not signing any more quality players after the cup final."
Do you still keep in touch with any of the cup-winning team?
Dennis: "Yes, and I am also a member of the former players association and attend one or two games at the Stadium of Light each season as a guest on the Former Players table, which is hosted by Jimmy Montgomery."
Your goal against Newcastle in the 1976 League Cup final has been voted the greatest moment in the competition's history. That's not a bad accolade to have, is it?
Dennis: "I am delighted with that acknowledgement, as a player’s career doesn’t last for ever, and it is important to be able to achieve individual and collective successes. I have been fortunate to achieve success with each one of my three main clubs; the FA Cup in 1973 with Sunderland, the League Cup in 1976 with Manchester City and the North American Championship with New York Cosmos in 1978."
How did your move to America come about, and how did it feel to realise that you were being signed to replace Pele?
Dennis: "I had fallen out with Tony Book, and the American opportunity came when it was beginning to boom in the NASL. It was a great honour when I realised that I would be replacing the great Pele. I had been approached by Manchester United, and Nottingham Forest, who were managed by Brian Clough at the time, but the American challenge was something that I felt I couldn’t refuse, so I turned them both down."
I'm really looking forward to reading your book. What can we expect from it?
Dennis: "Complete honesty and an accurate journey through what I believe is a unique and interesting career. I was rejected by Newcastle, who decided that I was too small. I had a fantastic time at Sunderland and then moved on to a great period at Manchester City, before my iconic period at New York Cosmos. The final episodes tell of my experiences in the boardroom at Manchester City, which were different challenges altogether, where I was able to use my knowledge of previous years in business and in the dressing room."
And with that, our thanks go our to Mr Tueart for making the time to talk to us, here at Roker Report. If you would like to order the book, Dennis Tueart, My Incredible Journey, it is available from visionsp.co.uk.